11 posts categorized "American Cinema"

December 02, 2013

SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS — THE CRITERION COLLECTION

  ColeSmithey.com    Groupthink doesn't live here, critical thought does.

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ColeSmithey.comAlexander Mackendrick (director of “The Ladykillers”) may have been of British descent, but his quick-paced 1957 sardonic drama — about the symbiotic relationship between a decadent Manhattan newspaper showbiz columnist and a hungry press agent — captures America’s indulgence in greed, corruption, and aggression like none other.

Drawing on the noir style and subject matter of Billy Wilder’s perfect “Ace in the Hole” (1952) “black political drama” would be a suitable moniker for the dark pitch of cynical social satire that “Sweet Smell of Success” examines, rather than the “film noir” attribution that it frequently attracts.

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Here lies the defective foundation of the American Dream as viewed from an American viewpoint (Burt Lancaster’s company produced the film).

The story takes place during a day and a half in the life of its New York City characters. Fey toady press agent Sidney Falco (Tony Curtis) is in the doghouse with his Walter Winchell-type gossip columnist mentor-and-abuser JJ Hunsecker (emphasis on the second “J”). Mackendrick’s ravenous camera moves through Manhattan’s late '50s Broadway theater district on a nocturnal quest for truth.

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According to JJ, the frequently groveling Sidney is not responding quickly enough to JJ’s orders to rev up the rumor mill to break up a hot romance brewing between Hunsecker’s adult sister Susan (Susan Harrison) and a bland jazz guitarist named Steve Dallas (Martin Milner). Steve Dallas isn’t exactly the next Tal Farlow on guitar, but he’s earned Susan’s romantic devotion. JJ wants to shut the whole thing down with a smear-job on Steve Dallas that sticks.

“Communist” is a convenient accusation. JJ’s incestuous emotions seethe in his sexually impotent [or bound] mind. Sidney is working through an imagined apprenticeship with JJ that he hopes will eventually lead to his mentor’s place. The latent homosexual dominant/submissive subtext that exists between the two men underscores JJ’s impotent but nonetheless incestuous desires for his sister. Trouble in mind; trouble in action.

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Neither man has an ounce of ethics but both fake morals to mask their true devotion — to power and money. Sidney calls everybody “baby” or “sweetheart” to get what he wants for his master. He sees though JJ regardless of how beholden to him he is. Sidney tells his de facto boss, “JJ, you’ve got such contempt for people it makes you stupid.”

Based on a novella by former press agent Ernest Lehman (“Sabrina”) and adapted by Clifford Odets, the great leftist poet of Harold Clurman Group Theatre — “Sweet Smell of Success” exists in a self-loathing urban bourgeois stratosphere where a gossip columnist like JJ Hunsecker can make or break a career depending on whether or not he mentioned it in his column.

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Burt Lancaster’s JJ Hunsecker is a nasty master manipulator, but he doesn’t know his limits — and he doesn’t care because he’s been rewarded so much and so long for his ruthless tactics. He’s irresponsible. JJ’s capacious power has blinded everyone, including him. Still, his days are numbered.

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Neither the antagonist (JJ) nor the film’s (purposefully) falsely represented protagonist (Sidney) has any redeeming traits. They suffer ongoing degrees of retribution, but each will carry on in the prescribed despicable methods to which each is accustomed.

“Sweet Smell of Success” flopped at the box office. It is in Time Magazine’s list as one of the top movies of all time.

Not Rated. 96 mins.

5 Stars ColeSmithey.com

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December 02, 2012

DAYS OF WINE AND ROSES — CLASSIC FILM PICK

     ColeSmithey.com    Groupthink doesn't live here, critical thought does.

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ColeSmithey.comThe first film to tackle alcoholism in a serious manner, “Days of Wine and Roses” is a tragic social drama of timeless effect. It remains one of the most heartrending cinematic interpretations of addiction ever produced. No matter how many times you watch it, it’s never an easy experience.

Adapted by JP Miller from his 1958 “Playhouse 90” teleplay, the story follows the rise and fall of a young San Francisco couple exceptionally played by Jack Lemmon and Lee Remick. Two finer screen performances you will likely never see.

Joe works as a glib public relations executive at the same firm where Kirsten is employed as the secretary of the head of the company. For Joe, social drinking is part of the job.

The Lifelong Quest For Sobriety…The Ultimate Hero's Journey—Part 28 |  Council on Recovery

“Hit me again” is his catchphrase to bartenders and waiters. Although they get off on the wrong foot when Joe mistakes Kirsten for a party girl he invites to on a harbor cruise for one of his rapacious clients, Joe corrects for his blunder the next day.

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An enchanted dinner date allows Joe to induct teetotaler Kirsten into the joys of drinking with a brandy alexander that appeals to her love of chocolate. A post-dinner visit to Fisherman’s Warf sets the tone for the relationship. Kirsten quotes poetry. “They are not long, the days of wine and roses.”

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Kirsten’s preference to ignore the dirty water at their feet in favor of looking out to the moonlit bay is inversely mirrored in Joe’s constant attention to the bottle he swigs from. Not even Kirsten’s radiant beauty can distract Joe from his obsession with alcohol.

Joe momentarily exhibits a streak of ethical conduct — however tentatively — when he hints to his boss that he doesn’t want to function as a pimp anymore. Joe and Kirsten get married and have a baby girl. But Kirsten’s decision to follow Joe’s alcoholic lead results in her accidentally setting fire to their plush apartment. The catastrophic event snaps Joe into recognizing their drinking problem. He moves the family to Kirsten’s father’s home for a do-it-yourself rehab program, helping with the old man’s home nursery business.

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Two months of hard work and sobriety comforts Joe into believing that a little bender won’t hurt. He pays for his transgression with two months in a hospital sanitarium. When Joe reaches out for assistance, Jack Klugman’s Alcoholics Anonymous sponsor Jim Hungerford arrives to guide Joe on the road to recovery.

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Although director Blake Edwards is heavy-handed in his use of multiple variations of Henri Mancini’s theme song to underscore the drama, the movie goes to depths of humiliation, betrayal, and pain that might otherwise break the audience without the shallow musical commentary. The love that Joe and Kirsten share acts as a cruel tool for the reversals they continue to suffer. The film’s potent tableau encompasses the daily struggle of all addicts, whether recovering or still caught in the grip of addiction.

Not Rated. 117 mins. 

5 Stars

Cozy Cole

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October 03, 2010

CAMERAMAN: THE LIFE & WORK OF JACK CARDIFF — NYFF 2010

Welcome!

Groupthink doesn't live here, critical thought does.ColeSmithey.comThis ad-free website is dedicated to Agnès Varda and to Luis Buñuel.

Get cool rewards when you click on the button to pledge your support through Patreon.

Thanks a lot acorns!

Your kind generosity keeps the reviews coming!

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COLESMITHEY.COMEssential viewing for fans of the cinematographer's craft, Craig McCall's fascinating documentary about one of the greatest cameramen of all time is a film to be cherished.

Jack Cardiff began his film career in 1918, as a four-year-old child actor. By the time he was a teenager Cardiff was working as a camera assistant.

In 1939 he operated the camera for his first feature film, "Main Street of Paris."

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Cardiff's bountiful output with Michael Powell and Emeric Pressberger, beginning with "The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp" (1943), allows Cardiff to exhibit his virtuosic camera abilities.

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Jack Cardiff intuitively knew how to take full advantage of the Technicolor technology he helped usher in with "Wings of the Morning" (1937), the first feature film shot using the process.

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Hearing Cardiff talk about working with actresses like Marlene Dietrich and Marilyn Monroe is a treat. Jack Cardiff was an accomplished painter whose passion for art informed his uncanny ability to achieve visual compositions of supernatural beauty and light.

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"African Queen," "War & Peace," "Black Narcissus," and "The Red Shoes" are merely a few of the visually stunning movies from Jack Cardiff's resume that are referenced in this entertaining look at a true master of the cinema. Unforgettable.

Not Rated. 90 mins.

5 Stars“ColeSmithey.com“

Cozy Cole

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